“Mia?” Wyatt’s surprised voice from her back had Mia smiling, and she didn’t bother to hide her gloating when she spun the lab chair to face him.

For a moment she lost the ability to speak. Wyatt was standing at the lab door in khaki slacks, a bright blue button-down stretching over his chest, his lab coat hanging open and his broad frame filling out the white fabric perfectly. A delectable sight indeed, one she allowed herself to enjoy after their exchange at the party.

“Good morning, Doctor Jenkins.”

Wyatt raised an eyebrow as he strode towards her, his gape fading to cocky confidence that both got under her skin and heated her blood. He wasn’t wrong with his assessment that sex could complicate an already complicated situation, but God was Mia tempted to test that theory. Especially when he leaned a solid hip on the table next to her, examining her with his intelligent bright brown eyes while taking a drink from his reusable coffee mug.

Wyatt lowered his mug, still assessing her with an unreadable expression. “And I thought I clocked in early.”

He wasn’t wrong. No one would be in the hub for another hour at least, but Mia liked to get a considerable head start, that way she had all the assignments of the day sorted out before people poured into the lab and could free herself to deal with the big picture with a quiet mind.

“There are a lot of moving pieces in running a specialized lab, let alone a hub,” Mia said with a matter-of-fact tone, though neither she nor Wyatt held any illusion of what she was really saying. “I find it best to arrive much earlier than everyone else to ensure a smooth day.”

“Thank you for the tip.” Wyatt tipped his coffee in her direction. “See? We’re already off to a great first day, sharing pointers.”

Mia snorted then hurried to cover her mouth, and the corner of Wyatt’s mouth tilted up in a slow half-grin that did things to Mia’s body heat. It was increasingly frustrating, this reaction she had to him.

“May I ask you something?” She looked at Wyatt expectantly and he nodded. “Why sociogenomics?”

“Are you a comics fan, Mia?”

“I’m familiar with the main storylines.”

“Well, I’m a big fan, and when I was about six, I read about the multiverse for the first time in a comic book. Are you familiar with the multiverse theory?” Mia nodded, leaning back in her chair as she kept listening with increasing interest. “The older I got, and the more I learned about genetics, the less sense the idea of the human genome being one-dimensional made.”

“The human body as a multiverse, I’ve read that article.”

“Really?” His eyes grew wide, a self-conscious smile blooming over his face. “That’s an old article, pre-PhD.”

“We’ve been on parallel paths for most of our academic careers,” Mia shrugged. “I read it rather closely to its publication date.” And a few dozen times since.

“Well, that’s the reason I went into sociogenomics.” Wyatt placed his empty cup on the table before straightening his stance and looking at Mia with an utterly serious gaze. “I refuse to believe that we have one pre-determined code that the environment either manages to suppress or doesn’t.”

“So, what do you believe?” Mia asked, truly curious.

“Life is a series of actions and reactions. We have basic programming, and I’m not refuting the effect of our genetics on our personality, but our code is constantly evolving and developing in accordance with those actions and reactions.” Wyatt took a step forward, so close she caught a hint of his earthy pine scent. “We are each a universe of infinite possibilities, Mia.”

She was fascinated by the conviction radiating from his russet eyes, how his beliefs aligned to hers so perfectly. His words spoke to parts of her that had nothing to do with science.

It was all too present in her body, the desire to touch him, and Mia needed it to stop. She took great care in tidying her notes, carefully setting them aside before standing. “Come on, I’ll give you a tour.”

It was fairly straightforward from that point. They spent the majority of the tour going over Wyatt’s questions about the information in the binder she’d given him while walking through the lab. Even between two scientists who had devoted their lives to research, spreadsheets, refrigerators, and beakers didn’t make much of an interesting subject for conversation. Next generation sequencing, on the other hand, turned out to be a volatile topic.

“Good.” Wyatt beamed as they approached the state-of-the-art system located in the depths of the lab. “They ordered the model I asked for.”

“Mmm, yes, it seems so.” Mia had to draw from all her inner posh to remain calm. “I’ve been asking for a next-gen sequencing system for over a year. Apparently I wasn’t asking correctly. Next time I’ll know to go straight for the most expensive one.”

“Yes, well, maybe the department just knew I was good for the money.” Wyatt turned to face her. “Considering all the funding my presence here guarantees.”

“What a noble aspiration, to be made head of such an innovative establishment on the merit that you’re good for the money.”

Mia knew her jab was below the belt and had fully intended for her words to sting. The lazy half-grin making another appearance was not the reaction she had expected.

“I’m good at a lot of things, Mia,” Wyatt said in a tone that left no room for interpretation. Though even if Mia had forced herself to ignore the deepening of his voice or the darkening of his bright brown eyes, she couldn’t deny the heat sparking between their bodies when Wyatt took a step towards her, pinning her between his solid bulk and the table behind her with only a breath of air between them.

“Tu es une bête,” Mia hissed at him, hoping the angry words would be enough to mask the equally strong desire she was feeling towards this beast of a man claiming her personal space.

“I didn’t learn that one in high school French lessons,” Wyatt said with a snicker, though he seemed anything but amused. “But I’m going to go out on a limb and assume it’s not one you should be saying to your boss.”

Mia’s heart was pounding hard and fast under his intense gaze, and the sparse space between them crackled, the energy potent and undeniable. Mia hated that from all the men she’d come across, it was the one she had to get rid of that sparked such a strong physical reaction in her.

Her hand reached out, flattening over Wyatt’s chest to see if his heart was beating just as hard as hers.

“Do you always stand this close to your subordinates, Doctor Jenkins?” she asked, feeling a sliver of excitement at the erratic thuds under her palm.

Wyatt assessed her with a careful gaze before stepping back and out of her reach.

“I was hoping we’d be equals, Mia.” His words sounded sincere, but Mia didn’t believe a single one. “I didn’t come here to flex my name or title, I came here because I am genuinely excited about what we can do in this hub, together. I was hoping you’d be just as thrilled at the prospect.”

“You wanted me here, Wyatt,” Mia said with a shake of her head, clearing out some of the lustful fog that had settled in it. “I was forced to accept your presence.”

“You can’t blame me for division decisions.”

“No, but I don’t have to pretend to be happy about them.” She stepped around him, walking towards the lab door. Then she stopped and turned to face him, knowing her next words would seal the fate of any potential peace between them. “And I’m not going to pretend as if your last name isn’t the only reason you’re the boss, and not me.”

Mia hurried to turn her back on Wyatt, catching a glimpse of the pained rage taking over his features. Despite her harsh words, she’d never wanted to undermine his brilliance or competence, neither of which she doubted. She merely wanted to convey that her own brilliance and competence were equal to his, and his name was the only edge he had over her.

She knew Wyatt wouldn’t understand it that way, though. Giles had told her how upset Wyatt was when he learned the reason behind her anger, despite how calm and amicable he had been about her behavior up to that point. It was an exposed nerve, and Mia knew she was poking it hard.

Part of her felt rotten. A large part. She was almost compelled to turn around and clarify her cruel comment, but it would be forfeiting the strongest weapon she had. Herbert was the one who told her she had to learn how to play the game, even if she hated it. Mia wondered if it also came at the cost of hating herself.

“Doctor Bissonnette?” Wyatt’s calm and mechanical voice from behind her startled her, and she spun on her heels, almost crashing into his chest.

Mia looked up and was met with a cold stare that caused her insides to twist.

“Yes, Doctor Jenkins?”

“I have some questions on the splicing from the last experiment you conducted in the lab, I’ll send them to you via email and I expect an answer no later than tomorrow morning.” He waited, and when she nodded, he simply turned to his office and calmly closed the door behind him.

Mia let out a shuddery breath, leaning on the wall with a groan. She was doubting herself. Wyatt’s chilliness just now left her feeling anxious and guilty. It was in complete contrast to the intoxicating heat of their previous encounters, and Mia didn’t like this interaction between them at all. The knowledge that she was solely responsible for it made the self-reproach even worse.

No. She straightened her spine with determination. She’d known it wouldn’t be easy to get Wyatt out of the way, but Mia had been preparing for over a month and she hadn’t come this far to back down after one day.

This was her life, the only thing that mattered. She was ready to fight for it and she was going to win.